Graphic designer Ruben Buffery on landing his first graduate job at The Midnight Club
Graphic designer Ruben Buffery is one of the many people that graduated from university amid a global pandemic. Although it was no easy feat, he can now say that the hard knocks ultimately led to some great triumphs. After graduating from Leeds Arts University, Ruben found himself navigating the murky world of freelancing – a time he describes as a rollercoaster, and which ultimately led him to look for full-time employment at a company he admired. So he sent his CV to design studio, The Midnight Club, and now works as their 2D graphic designer. Ruben talks to us about those pivotal months, email etiquette, and ensuring you’re not being taken advantage of as a young freelancer.
2D Junior Graphic Designer
Intern, adidas, Arsenal Football Club
BA Graphic Design, Leeds Arts University
(2017 – 2020)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I am a graphic designer and I base my work around typography, print, branding, animation, and everything in the middle. I like to combine multiple practices and mediums in an attempt to create something new and abstract whilst still retaining that purpose. I also try to make typography in the most unorthodox way.
How would you describe what you do specifically at The Midnight Club?
At The Midnight Club, I am responsible for supporting pitch decks with some graphic design, creating graphic elements within larger-scale projects, creating new concepts for early-stage ones, and generally helping out where I can! There’s a lot of fun nooks and crannies within The Midnight Club that allows me to go mental and design whatever I want.
If you could sum up your job in a gif, what would it be and why?
This (below) represents my job because it’s very fast-paced, but that’s alright because I’ve got 12 hands!
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
It has to be SADGRADS 2020 zines, as this was my first substantial project leaving university. When I graduated in lockdown I had absolutely nothing to do which drove me towards completing a big project that had a purpose and gave positivity to the world, instead of just making something look good for no reason.
Jody Mulvey and I raised just shy of £1,000 for three separate charities: Black Minds Matter, The Free Black University, and Blueprint for all (previously named Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust). We shared around 100 grad pieces in two zines and sold them around the globe. Giving everyone a chance to have their work printed gave a sense of community during a time of uncertainty and loneliness.
What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
Classic Adobe skills are required, but apart from that, I’d say your character and creativity play a big part in landing a job. If you’re a good fit for the company the people interviewing you will see that. Apart from that, maybe a bit of good email grammar, which I’m average at!
No specific training is required at all; making mistakes and learning as you go is the best procedure for anything like this. Be yourself!
“Your character and creativity play a big part in landing a job.”
How did you land the job?
I applied two or three months before even getting an interview. It was one of those jobs where I shot my CV over not believing it would take me anywhere. I was grateful for even getting an interview let alone getting the job.
I’d say if you fire off your CV and you don’t hear back within two months, don’t take it personally and don’t get hung up on it.
How I Got Here
What was your journey like after you graduated?
It was a massive roller coaster. I picked up a few clients for the first few months which kept me active and made me start thinking about going freelance full-time. Very shortly after that (and after a few people trying to take advantage of my service), I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
The parts I enjoyed the most were developing my projects, making zines, typefaces, T-shirts, and applying for as many jobs as I could. After those few client projects ended, I just spent months and months applying for jobs and developing my practice, whilst doing some shifts at a cafe.
I contemplated whether a creative career was worth it, but the graft paid off 100%. So all in all, massive highs and bottom-of-the-barrel lows. If anyone is finding themselves in that position, just sweat it out and it’ll pay off.
“I contemplated whether a creative career was worth it, but the graft paid off 100%”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career so far, what would they be and why?
Anything by Braulio Amado – his work is unreal and I can only dream of being as mint as him. Whenever I’m in a jam, I always wonder what he’d do.
MacGuffin Magazine is another great one. I enjoy how they turn a super-mundane item into something incredibly interesting. It opens my mind to new possibilities and avenues, and always makes me more conscious of my surroundings and what I consume. It’s also designed well so it’s always good to reference aesthetic-wise too.
Lastly, the Powerful Truth Angels podcast. It’s got nothing to do with design but the two guys who talk on it – a chef and a streetwear company director – are an inspirational duo. They have both worked incredibly hard and are humble. It’s also a mint podcast to listen to when working.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
I’d say my routine. It’s hard living through a pandemic but since I started my new job, I've tested out so many different routines to try and get that perfect work-life balance. I had to make sure I was getting out at least once a day to clear my head.
Graduating from university was one of my biggest challenges too. Creative courses are no joke! In my final year, my classmates and I decided to try and make the biggest collaborative project the uni had ever seen, which was incredibly stressful but paid off massively. I learned a lot about fashion design, photography, art direction and met a bunch of mint people along the way.
“If you charge a reasonable price that you believe in, your clients will respect you for that.”
How important would you say social media and self-promotion have been to your work or career so far?
Social media has helped my freelance career a lot, especially at the very start. I was very active and so garnered quite a bit of attention, which helped me score new work. If that’s what you’re into, get as much interaction going as possible – not just clicks, but do something physical that will draw people to your account. But remember there is a world outside of Instagram. Joining The Midnight Club had nothing to do with how many followers I had, but social media helps if you're working independently.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Do what you love and the money will come after if you put the graft in. I know it’s a bit cliché to say, but money isn’t everything. If you’re starting out as a freelancer and testing those waters, don’t undersell yourself. Don’t be scared to charge triple figures. If you charge a reasonable price that you believe in, your clients will take you more seriously and respect you for that. There’s a risk of being taken advantage of for your cheap prices.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
I watched an interview with Aries Moross who said that “There is no such thing as a perfect job advertisement.” A job might not tick all your boxes, so throw any anxieties about job applications out the window and apply to as many as possible.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Make a massive list of all the places you want to work at. Create some well-crafted emails, and don’t forget to schedule them for Monday morning. Get straight to the point and ask for a bit of work in that first email so there is no awkward back and forth. This landed me a couple of freelance gigs with studios I would have never thought I would have worked with. I did this exact process with The Midnight Club a year before landing a full-time job with them. Even if you don’t get any work – it’s still great to get your name on their radar.
We have partnered with community-building platform SAD GRADS to highlight some of their talented network. Set up to support 2020 graduates across the UK, see more from SAD GRADS here.
Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali
Mention Ruben Buffery